Gail and I attend Sunday morning worship at The Salvation Army on 26th Street in East St Louis IL those Sundays we are home in St Louis. Actually Kirkwood, as we await moving to what will be our home in St Louis city. That’s another story. Here’s my story about two Bibles of East St Louis.
A few weeks ago we crossed the Mississippi and joined a very small group for worship. Several were children. We got talking about the Bible, looking up passages for our lesson, a free unstructured sort of Bible study. One girl mentioned that she didn’t have a Bible. Her name is Maya. I remembered this.
The next morning I went to the table in my office and took the new Bible I had just received for joining a year-long Salvation Army reading plan. I picked it up and put it back in its protective sleeve. A few days later I handed it to my Corps Officer, Lieutenant AJ Zachery. He delivered it to Maya.
Last week Gail and I were back at East St Louis Corps. We met with a group of children to prepare them to become Junior Soldiers, entry level for young people into Salvation Army life and service. That evening Maya was there learning along with the others.
I was standing in the chapel. Maya walked over and stood in front of me, looking off to the side. She seemed to be thinking. ‘Are you the one who gave me a Bible?’ Yes, that was me. Maya was silent for a few seconds, looking like she was pondering this.
‘Thank you.’ And then she walked off to join the others who were busy being children. Playing, chattering, teasing each other, asking us all kinds of questions.
That’s the first Bible of East St Louis. Here’s the second.
The day after Maya thanked me I attended an early morning committee meeting of the St Louis Advisory Board. Advisory Boards, well, advise The Salvation Army. St Louis has an exceptional Board.
Someone on the committee shared a story about a man they know, a friend, who told them that as a young person living in East St Louis he was given a Bible by a Salvation Army Officer, name now forgotten. That was in 1957. He still has that Bible. That simple act of being given a Bible made an impact in his life. The Bible.
I want to connect these two stories. In them I believe there is some kind of meaning.
The Tuft of Flowers is a poem by Robert Frost. He describes one morning coming to a freshly mown field to work. He discovers that the mower, now gone, left “a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook”:
The mower in the dew had loved them thus, By leaving them to flourish, not for us, Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him, But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.
Alone in the field, he no longer feels alone. The flowers left by the mower has created a bond.
“Men work together,” I told him from the heart, “Whether they work together or apart.”
Many of us who work in urban places with very hard conditions, where life is cut down too early, too often … the Bible has meaning, impact. It especially has impact when it is used as a message, a gift, that someone notices me.
From Psalm 103:
As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.